When Jesus said, “ . . . it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, ” was He referring to a geographical formation called the “eye of the needle”?
Three of the four gospels record this saying from Jesus. It is recorded in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25.
Geographical Location. First, was Jesus referring to a geographical location? The answer is no. There are no historical or archaeological findings that have been identified as the “eye of a needle.” Some writers have claimed this was a reference to a gate, but there is no evidence for that conclusion other than the author’s imagination.
Parable. Jesus was using a parable to make a point. At the time of Jesus there were several similar proverbs. There was a Jewish proverb which says that a man cannot even in his dreams watch an elephant go through the eye of a needle. There was also a proverb in the Koran which says, “For those who have denied and scorned Our revelations the gates of heaven shall not be opened; nor shall they enter Paradise until the camel shall pass through the eye of a needle” (Koran 7:39). The Talmud also has a statement “A needle’s eye is not too narrow for two friends, nor is the world wide enough for two enemies.” These proverbs may have been adapted from Jesus’ proverb since both the Koran and the Jewish Talmud were written after Jesus. It is also possible they had a different origin. In any case the proverbs have the same meaning: impossibility.
Jesus was not saying that one cannot be rich. Nor was He saying that God rejects rich people because they are rich. Even Abraham, Job, King David, and King Solomon were very wealthy men. Jesus’ point was that when one is wealthy that person may be willing to “serve God” but not completely. When it comes to depending on God for the forgiveness of one’s sins, we find it hard to admit we are nothing when we think we have everything. The man Jesus was talking to was pursuing God according to his own heart.
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (NASB) Matthew 19:20-24
It is not enough to want to please God. The true test of being God’s children is a willingness to give up everything if asked to do so. This is hard when one feels he has most everything. It is as difficult as a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. Neither can a rich man enter heaven who wants to get there on his own power. After he dies and realizes that he needs God, he is too late.